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South Taiwan Ride 2015: Fangliao to Manzhou

Metal fish in the sky: a monument to aquaculture on the outskirts of Fangliao.

Last summer I embarked upon a weeklong bicycle tour in the deep south of Taiwan. I began in Tainan 台南, cycled through Kaohsiung 高雄 to Pingtung City 屏東市, spent a day hanging out, and then continued on to Fāngliáo 枋寮, where the coastal plain narrows to a thin wedge between the mountains and the sea. There is only one road leading south from here—which meant I covered a lot of ground I had already seen while riding all around Taiwan in 2013. I didn’t mind repeating that beautiful stretch of coastline and, actually, I was looking forward to checking out some places I had breezed by on that first big tour, particularly in Fāngshān 枋山 and Héngchūn 恆春.

The view from a motel by highway 1 in Fangliao. You can see the mountains on the horizon and the sea is only about a kilometer in the other direction.

The day began in a nondescript motel on Provincial Highway 1. It was nothing special but the view from my balcony was rather nice, as you can see (above). After packing up I doubled back on the highway and turned down the main road leading toward town in search of a hearty breakfast to fuel my engines—and was almost immediately arrested by the sight of an impressive ruin I hadn’t noticed the night before. Urban exploration before breakfast? Sure, why not!

An abandoned factory ion the outskirts of Fangliao in Pingtung County, Taiwan. (Original post.)
Creeping around the side in search of roof access.
What was being made here? What was being tested?

Not long after entering the building I realized it must have once been a factory of some kind, possibly chemical or pharmaceutical. Most interesting was the remains of a laboratory on one of the upper floors. I eventually wrote this up as Fangliao Factory 枋寮工廠, a generic title chosen because I wasn’t able to divine the formal name of this abandonment. It was a rousing adventure, one which I suggest you take the time to read about before proceeding!

Down by the concrete shoreline on the outskirts of the small town of Fāngliáo 枋寮. These tetrapods are deployed all around Taiwan to prevent shoreline erosion.

Following my unexpected detour through the decaying ruins of industry I continued into town, stopping only to snap a quick photograph of the concrete coastline at the north end of the main stretch. The objects in view are known as tetrapods and they act as breakwaters to prevent coastal erosion. Years ago it was reported that more than half of the Taiwanese coast is covered with these unsightly things—so you’ll be seeing more of them in pictures to come, particularly when I make it to Taitung.

Out front at Fangliao Station 枋寮火車站, the beginning of the South-Link Line that connects Pingtung 屏東 (and the rest of western Taiwan) with Taitung.

After a quick breakfast I went for a spin around Fāngliáo 枋寮 to see what I might find in this sleepy coastal town. I began with Fangliao Station 枋寮火車站, the first stop on the South-Link Line 南迴線, which connects southwestern Taiwan with the east coast by rail. Most railway lines in Taiwan were in service back in the Japanese colonial era but this line was only completed in 1991! Next to the station is an area known as Fangliao Railway Artist Village 枋寮鐵道藝術村 or Fangliao F3 Cultural District 枋寮F3藝文特區, probably the biggest attraction in the area, though I didn’t notice much activity in the area when I meandered through shortly after noon.

Robot folk art is popular in Taiwan. This was shot around the F3 Artist Village 枋寮F3藝文特區 just to the east of the station front in Fangliao.
Behind the main drag: this creek feeds into the back of the harbour in Fangliao.
Fangliao’s inner harbour around noon. Not much to see during the day, but it isn’t a big port.
A dry pond in the Běishìliáo Aquaculture Production Area 北勢寮養殖漁業生產區. The strange monument in the distance is part of a water pump station if I’m not mistaken.
Active aquaculture ponds south of Fangliao. These are a common sight all along the western coast of Taiwan.

Heading south out of Fāngliáo 枋寮 proper I soon passed through Běishìliáo Aquaculture Production Area 北勢寮養殖漁業生產區, a cluster of fish ponds and the site of the curious monument at the top of this post. I haven’t done a lot of research into the aquaculture industry in Taiwan but it is certainly among the largest in the world and, consequently, one of the most impactful. Nearly the entire western coast of Taiwan is one vast manmade landscape—and that’s only what you see at the surface. Excessive groundwater pumping to fill freshwater aquaculture ponds has also led to record-setting levels of land subsidence, particularly along the stretch of coastline just north of Fangliao, where entire villages have sunk below sea level in Linbian and Jiadong. (I was not aware of this last year otherwise I would have gone out of my way to take a closer look!)

The same blue pipe I photographed on my first bicycle tour around the island. Here you can also see a gravel mining operation just to the left of center. Apparently this is the dry bed of the Lǜmáng River 率芒溪.
Gazing south along the coastline on the edge of the small village of Jialu. If you look closely you can see the thin wedge of Guānshān 關山 jutting out into the sea.

Now for a little about local geography! Most of my day was spent riding down the west side of the Hengchun Peninsula 恆春半島, the southernmost extension of the Central Mountain Range 中央山脈, which runs the entire length of the island. Fāngshān 枋山, the district immediately to the south of Fāngliáo 枋寮, marks the southern terminus of the Pingtung Plain 屏東平原. The coastline closely follows the foothills for the next 25 kilometers, deviating only where sediment deposition from mountain streams has been sufficient to form small alluvial plains where almost all settlement is concentrated. The landscape opens up again at the mouth of the Hengchun Longitudinal Valley 恆春縱谷 in Chēchéng 車城. This valley is bound to the east by the Hengchun Fault 恆春斷層 and to the west by an uplifted coral plateau generally known as Guānshān 關山, faintly visible in the picture above (just look for the thin blue wedge on the horizon; everything to the left of that is the valley).

A stone from the beach lined up with the horizon. This beach fronts onto the South China Sea 南海. Hong Kong 香港 is about 700 km due west of here.
An old house near Jiālù 加祿 in Fāngshān 枋山. Local people tend to live in newer, more modern buildings, leaving these historic homes to rot from the inside out.
A railway tunnel on the coastal plains of Pingtung. (Original post.)

Before reaching the end of the plains I cycled by an intriguing anomaly that I had previously noted on my first tour around Taiwan: a kilometer-long railway tunnel looking very much like a fortified bunker from some forgotten war. This is Jiāhé Zhētǐ 嘉和遮體, a “naked” (since it doesn’t go through anything but open air) tunnel built in 1991 to protect trains from naval bombardment. Prior to the completion of the South-Link Line this part of the Taiwanese coast was used as a shooting range so this structure was built to protect passing trains from stray ordinance. The shooting range was eventually moved when some bigwig realized that lobbing live munitions in the direction of passenger trains was not the brightest idea in the universe—but the tunnel remains, a curious monument to a convoluted bureaucratic decision-making process.

One of Taiwan’s many weird roadside attractions: a bunch of dinosaurs outside a gas station on the way to Kenting.
Definitely one of the nicest 7-Eleven locations in all Taiwan.

The coastal highway is the main route south to Kenting, a popular resort town at the southern tip of the island previously discussed in this post. Along the way there are many roadside attractions, from the transient fruit vendors and pop-up cafes to more permanent businesses like restaurants, gas stations, and convenience stores, all vying for the attention of passing motorists and tour buses with quirky displays and signboards. The golden dinosaur is a nice touch—and the 7-Eleven convenience store a little further on is probably one of the nicest in the country. I stopped there for a remarkably refreshing snack: soft-serve ice cream.

Riding the coastal highway south to Hengchun. The paved shoulder doubles as a bicycle lane for the most part, breaking only at bridges and in some towns. The coral plateau of Guanshan is once again visible on the horizon to the right.

In the southern third of Fāngshān 枋山 I left the main highway to explore the small fishing town of Fēnggǎng Village 楓港村. From a cursory reading of the available literature it sounds like this village was founded in 1765 by Chinese settlers looking to avoid conflict with Taiwanese Plains Aborigines further north in Fāngliáo 枋寮. The village certainly seemed old from what I could tell while riding around aimlessly. There were many archaic houses scattered around town, plenty of them abandoned or in an advanced state of decay—including one that has recently become quite famous!

Crossing the river into Fenggang Village 楓港村, a tiny coastal hamlet now famous for being the ancestral home of Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s current president.
The main street in Fenggang.
A traditional shop in Fenggang.
Old stone house in Fenggang.
The house next to Tsai Ing-wen’s ancestral home is still inhabited.
The view through the archway next to Tsai Ing-wen’s ancestral home.
Tsai Ing-wen’s childhood home in the village of Fenggang. (Original post.)

While riding around Fenggang I noticed a funky signpost pointing to the Tsai Ing-wen Historic Home 蔡英文古厝. I recognized the characters for Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文, then the chairperson of the DPP and likely presidential contender. I went over to investigate and found the humble home where she spent her formative years. Nobody lives there any more but it is now gaining popularity as a museum of sorts, particularly since she was elected the first female president of the country almost a year after I visited!

Unusual roofing near the coastline in Fenggang Village. This place definitely felt old.
A traditional home redone in white and pink. How cute.
Zhúkēng Village 竹坑村 from the roadside. You can tell this is an aboriginal settlement by the style of the sign and the prominent display of the Christian cross.
An abandoned home in Zhukeng Village with a cross next to the door. Many Taiwanese aborigines are Christians, mostly Catholic or Presbyterian.
Xiaojianshan 小尖山, a rocky outcrop at the northern entrance to Hengchun Valley.

Highway 1 ends in Fenggang where it meets Highway 9, which crosses the mountains before shimmying up the east coast of the island, and Highway 26, which continues south around the coast to some very interesting places I’d be visiting the following day. After leaving Fenggang behind I passed through a small aboriginal community, Zhúkēng Village 竹坑村, before reaching the rocky outcrop of Xiǎojiānshān 小尖山, a major landmark on the way to Kenting. This modest mountain is the counterpart to the more famous Dàjiānshíshān 大尖石山, profiled in this piece about the geography of southernmost Hengchun. If you’re curious, check out this drone footage of the mountain and surrounding landscape.

Schoolchildren crossing the street in Checheng.
An old building in the back streets of Checheng.

A short spin around the village of Chēchéng 車城 at the northern entrance to Hengchun Valley revealed little of interest, though I didn’t stay long as daylight was beginning to fade. Forging on, I passed by the disused Hengchun Airport 恆春機場 and soon arrived at the entrance to the “ancient town” of Héngchūn 恆春 (or, to be less grandiose about it, Hengchun Old Town 恆春古城), one of my favourite places in southern Taiwan 台灣. Here you will find the most extensive remaining city walls in all of Taiwan—as well as the complete set of four original gates. There were once more than a dozen walled cities in Taiwan but the Japanese destroyed almost all of them as part of a nationwide program of urban renewal and modernization in the first decades of the 20th century.

The gaudy entrance to the “ancient town” of Hengchun.

Despite its diminutive size and remote location the Hengchun Peninsula has played a pivotal role in Taiwanese history. Traditionally known as Longkiau (a romanization of a Taiwanese Hokkien transliteration of the aboriginal place name rendered in a variety of other ways e.g. Liangkiau), it was beyond the imperial frontier of Qing dynasty era Taiwan until two high-profile shipwrecks brought foreign forces into conflict with local aboriginal tribes. These episodes—the Rover Incident (中文) of 1867, the Mudan Incident (中文) of 1871, and the Japanese invasion of Taiwan (中文) in 1874—spurned the Qing, who had previously governed Taiwan west of the boundary line with a mixture of disinterest and incompetence, to begin asserting control over more of the island. Thus Longkiau was brought under Qing control, renamed Héngchūn 恆春, Chinese for “eternal spring”, and city walls were completed in 1879.

Driving through the northern gate of Hengchun. The city walls are more complete and better preserved than any other in Taiwan.

Qing dominion over Hengchun was far from eternal. The Japanese treated the aforementioned Mudan Incident as justification for formally annexing the Ryūkyū Kingdom (now Okinawa) in 1879. This, in turn, paved the way for the Japanese invasion of Taiwan in 1895, a consequence of the Treaty of Shimonoseki signed at the conclusion of the First Sino-Japanese War. Imperial Japan took a much greater interest in Taiwan than the Qing had, embarking upon a campaign to fully integrate the island into a single polity for the first time in human history. There wasn’t much use for city walls in a united Taiwan so the colonial authorities eventually destroyed almost all of them—but they also don’t seem to have had much use for the former frontier outpost of Hengchun, which they mostly left alone.

The backyard view at a fried mochi shop near the western gate in Hengchun.
Fried mochi and cold tea combo plate.
A peek inside the old kitchen.

Not far from Xīmén 西門, the western gate, I stopped for a snack at a famous shop inside a hundred-year old house. Báiyángdào Cháishāo Máshu 白羊道柴燒麻糬 is famous for handmade mochi, a traditional dessert made out of glutinous rice and several different kinds of fillings—peanut, black sesame, red bean, and so on. I tried a combo plate served with a bottle of refreshingly cold tea and really enjoyed it. The boss spoke a little English and encouraged me to explore the rest of the house, which even has a small backyard patio. The furnishings are almost entirely antique: spare wooden furniture, old lamps, and the like. Naturally such a photogenic shop has become something of a hit with Taiwanese bloggers, for instance here, here, and here, and I absolutely recommend checking it out if you’re in town.

Hengchun’s eastern gate at sunset. I changed a flat here.

Now filled with delicious blobs I hit the road again, and almost immediately discovered I had my first flat of the trip. I wonder what had caused it? Whatever the case, after a delay of about fifteen minutes (including time to find a convenience store washroom to clean the black gunk off my hands) I exited the old city by way of Dōngmén 東門, the eastern gate, and set out along Highway 200, alert for whatever interesting stuff I might find by the roadside as I made my way into the foothills of Mǎnzhōu 滿州 at dusk. Even so, I somehow managed to completely miss Chūhuǒ Special Scenic Area 出火特别景觀區, home to one of Taiwan’s several natural gas seeps that are continually ablaze, despite having photographed the entrance (below). “Next time” invariably becomes my mantra on these trips!

Setting out on highway 200 for Manzhou in the gathering gloom.
On the road in the hills just east of Hengchun. New territory for me but I didn’t really have the time to appreciate it.

Last time I swept through this part of Taiwan on a bicycle I headed south from Héngchūn 恆春 before looping around the very southernmost tip of the island and entering Mǎnzhōu 滿州 from the south by way of Provincial Highway 26, which eventually meets the 200. As such, I was riding through unfamiliar territory, but didn’t really have the time to stop and appreciate it all that much. The sun was hanging low on the horizon and light was fading fast—and I had an actual destination for a change, so all I captured from this section were a handful of photographs from the road.

Rural home in the hills of the Hengchun Peninsula. Haven’t seen many places like this before.

Earlier in the day I broke from convention and actually booked a place in advance. I was coming up to a part of Taiwan that has haunted my dreams since I was last there, when I was riding through the outer bands of an extraordinarily powerful typhoon, and I was intent on maximizing the amount of time I’d have to explore the following day. The small town of Mǎnzhōu 滿州 is the last place to find lodging before the most remote stretch of coastal highway anywhere on the island of Taiwan so I had taken a room in a cyclist-friendly hostel there and was doing my best to check in not long after nightfall.

An old home in Yongjing Village, Manzhou.
Sundown over the hills of the Hengchun Peninsula on the outskirts of Manzhou.

I arrived in Manzhou just after dark and found my hostel. It was a simple place, possibly a quasi-legal addition to an existing building, as it was bolted onto the top of the owner’s home. After a quick shower I went out for dinner around 8pm and took a short spin around town before calling it a night. There wasn’t really anything to see or do anyway; rural villages like this one tend to follow an agrarian rhythm, early to bed and early to rise, which was precisely my goal for the night. It had been a long day of riding under the relentless tropical sun and I was in dire need of rest for the big ride coming up the next day.

Beads of sweat on the southern ride. Shot in a convenience store at the entrance to Fenggang Village.

Thus concludes my fourth day on the road in the deep south of Taiwan in early summer 2015. Be sure to read the previous entry and follow up with the next chapter, in which I end up exploring the most remote parts of coastal Taiwan!

South Taiwan Ride 2015 南台灣自行車旅行

This series chronicles a multi-day bicycle trip around the deep south of Taiwan 台灣, specifically from Tainan 台南 to Taitung in June 2015. Along the way I visited many places in Kaohsiung 高雄 and especially Pingtung 屏東. A lot of what I saw and experienced hasn’t been written about in English very much so I’ve taken some extra time to provide background information to better contextualize what’s in the many photographs in this series. Altogether this is a complete trip journal clocking in at around 20,000 words from start to finish! View All 
  1. South Taiwan Ride 2015: Tainan to Pingtung City
  2. South Taiwan Ride 2015: Pingtung City
  3. South Taiwan Ride 2015: Pingtung City to Fangliao
  4. South Taiwan Ride 2015: Fangliao to Manzhou
  5. South Taiwan Ride 2015: Manzhou to Dawu
  6. South Taiwan Ride 2015: Dawu to Taitung City
  7. South Taiwan Ride 2015: Taitung City

1 Comment

  1. Great post! I’ve passed by some of these places by car when going south, but couldn’t have a look as close as you did riding you bike :)

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